Innovation is a word that has been bounded around extensively during the past 18 months. From the CBI through to the Government, innovation has been touted as the key attribute that businesses need to propel themselves forward during difficult times.
This week’s announcement that the UK’s GDP shrank in the final part of last year has once again thrown the spotlight on what companies can do differently. But innovation doesn’t have to mean ripping up the rule book and starting again. A company is only as good as its people, and so perhaps the best place to start looking at how you can innovate is to consider how you can get the most out of your staff.
The world in which businesses operate has changed fundamentally. Some businesses have no office space and manage employees via their Facebook network and others operate using virtual workforces who can connect to one server via a secure connection. The fixed model of everyone working from one office location has, for most, been consigned to the dustbin. But the common thread that enables these different businesses to manage themselves, and their staff, in such a unique way is technology.
Placing technology at the heart of how you innovate can bring surprising results that not only revolutionise your company but also help with a better work life balance. Just look at Apple. Below I’ve outlined some of the most interesting technology developments that can make an impact through inspiring employees.
Investing in know-how
Video tutorials are becoming an increasingly popular way of keeping staff informed and engaged. They can be produced quickly and on a budget, uploaded to secure networks and made available to all those that would benefit from the training. These video tutorials can be complemented with a company Wiki database that includes how to guides, FAQs and company policy information.
Provided a company has a fast and secure network in place, uploading interactive training material to an accessible network will mean that the workforce will have access to useful information and support at all times.
Making the most of mobile
Giving staff the technology they need to operate out of the office is something that will undoubtedly help. But it’s not just about handing them a mobile and a Microsoft Exchange email account. More businesses than ever are taking advantage of iPads, smartphones and netbooks to shake up the way they do business.
We’ve seen letting agents make use of tablets and secure servers so that their staff can download information, access booking forms, e-signature contracts and bring up property details for clients at the touch of a button.
As managers have become adept at co-ordinating a mobile workforce, they are increasingly connecting staff members seamlessly with one another via video conferencing facilities, IP telephony and instant messaging. All this is having a significant impact on keeping people in touch with one another and allowing them to work efficiently and effectively from anywhere.
Creating a community
Social networking is commonplace in the consumer world. But businesses can learn from the community-driven projects that spawn organically on sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Organisations can build intranet communities to enable staff to interact digitally. Think tanks, brainstorms and even planning sessions can all be coordinated over a fast network. Workforces will no doubt be used to such platforms, and those that traditionally are reluctant to have their idea heard, may find social networking spaces a more comfortable arena to interact.
Businesses that create as many environments as possible for quality interaction between staff will reap the rewards in terms of creativity and a more cohesive workforce. While break rooms and kitchen areas may be perfect for the office, replicating these free-thinking spaces online will give ample opportunity for all to be involved.
Of course we still face some turbulent times in the coming months and businesses will want to ensure they do everything necessary to help them become successful.
By using technology in innovative ways managers can give their workforces the tools to operate more effectively. It’ll also result in a more motivated and content bunch of skilled staff who are prepared and eager to take on the challenges which businesses are looking to overcome in 2011.
Andrew McGrath is the executive director, commercial, at Virgin Media Business.